07/16/2010 2:02PM

Champ Pegasus steps up in Sunset

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Richard Mandella already shipped most of his stable to Del Mar, which opens its summer meet Wednesday. But he left behind an improving colt to run in a tough spot Sunday, closing day of the Hollywood Park spring meet.

Champ Pegasus, with just two career wins in maiden and allowance races, faces a tall order Sunday in the Grade 3 Sunset Handicap. Mandella does not kid himself. He admits the 1 1/2-mile turf race is an ambitious spot for a colt with only five starts.

“It is, but he looks like he’s ready for this stuff,” Mandella said. “I like the way he’s going.”

Seven are in the $100,000 Sunset; neither division leader entered. Bourbon Bay, three-time Grade 2 winner during the Santa Anita meet, only recently returned to the work tab; Acclamation, a Grade 1 winner, is resting from a recent unsuccessful ship to Monmouth.

Instead, the Sunset includes a diverse field of veterans. Marlang, a Grade 3 winner last summer at Saratoga, is likely to set the pace in his second start back; Unusual Suspect is an 8-for-48 graded stakes winner who has faced better; Buenos Dias won a second-level allowance last out. Great Siege, Oil Man, and Dynamic Range complete the field.

Early on, Champ Pegasus was going nowhere.

“To be honest, he didn’t show us a lot at 2 or early 3,” Mandella said.

More was expected from a colt sired by Fusaichi Pegasus and produced by Salt Champ, a South American mare Mandella trained to win the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap in her only U.S. start.

Champ Pegasus “was late to mature,” Mandella said. “When he came back, he was a lot different.”

He made his debut, finally, in December of his 3-year-old year, finishing fifth. He improved each successive race, winning a maiden race in his fourth start April 14, followed by a sharp allowance win June 12 at 1 1/4 miles.

A mile and half looks perfect.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” Mandella said. “He seems like he’s happy to just gallop along.”

Champ Pegasus also can finish. He flew the final quarter-mile of his allowance win in about 23 seconds. Joe Talamo rides Champ Pegasus.

◗ Champ Pegasus tries to bolster the turf division in race 9; the future of the 2-year-old division goes in race 7. The five-furlong race marks the debut of Smash, a well-regarded Smart Strike colt trained by Bob Baffert.